Li Yugang continues his exploration in cross-dressing performances and his latest show, Lady Zhaojun, is inspired by the legend of an ancient Chinese beauty. (Photo/China Daily)
After withdrawing from the limelight for three years, Li has found faith in himself and his art. He lived in Taipei for several months last year, where he practiced Buddhism, regained his inner peace and finished completing the idea of Lady Zhaojun.
In 2013, he spent nearly a month traveling from Beijing to Inner Mongolia, following in the footsteps of Wang and getting inspiration for the role.
During the two-hour show, Li will dance and perform songs by Taiwan singer-songwriter Vincent Fang. The stunning set and more than 10 elegant costumes were all designed by Tim Yip, the winner of the Oscar for Best Art Direction and Costume Design in 2000, for his collaboration with director Ang Lee on the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Li says he feels connected to the role because he shares the same loneliness as he pursues his art.
Born in a remote village of Northeast China's Jilin province, Li inherited his talent for performing from his mother, an errenzhuan (a folk dance form native to Northeast China) actress. He dropped out of school in 1996 because his family was too poor to afford the fees.
He left his hometown and sang at bars in nearby cities to make a living. He had little success until one night, thanks to his wide vocal range, he was able to substitute for a woman who was absent for a show.
"It was a duet and I sang both the male and the female parts. That's how I started with female roles," he says.
Li started borrowing the art of nan dan from Peking Opera. Nan dan, meaning men playing female roles, was a practice forged at a time when women were forbidden from public performances.
"I know that compared with professional Peking Opera actors I am an amateur. But I feel proud that I became who I am today from nothing," says Li.
He took lessons from legendary Peking Opera artist Mei Lanfang's disciples, Zhang Qiuhua and Hu Wenge, to learn to sing for the female roles. He also studied with Mao Geping, a well-known TV stylist, to turn himself into a "pretty woman" and was taught by the renowned choreographer-dancer Shen Peiyi to learn to dance like a woman.
"I have been waiting for the moment, which can see my departure from a grassroots pop star to a respectable artist. I believe that Lady Zhaojun is it," he says.
IF YOU GO
7:30 pm, through April 19. Poly Theater, Poly Plaza, 13 Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng district, Beijing.010-6506-5343, 400-610-3721.